Wild Mercury Sound
Since I saw them play a series of shows at the Union Chapel in Highbury a good decade ago, I’ve always felt that Low’s music suited churches. Not because of the religious connotations as such, more because they were so suited to the space, stillness and reverberations inherent in those kind of buildings.
It makes sense, then, that Low’s new album, “C’Mon”, has been recorded in a church close to their home in Duluth, Minnesota, the better to capture the trio’s monumental gravities. Unlike the frictional, treated environments of “Drums And Guns”, “C’Mon” represents a kind of return to a notionally purer Low, to the sound of an enormously controlled and self-contained band playing in a very big room. It captures a lot of what many of us cherish most about the band; a sound which has incrementally evolved over the space of 15-odd years, but still remained utterly identifiable.
While not touching on the more experimental textures of the band represented on “Drums And Guns”, “Songs For A Dead Pilot”, “Bombscare” and so on, “C’Mon” would work pretty well as an introduction to this most stately and moving of contemporary American bands. One of the things that’s so interesting about their sound is how it identifiably emerges from an obliterated post-punk/post-hardcore continuum, but simultaneously flaunts affinities with a much longer lineage of classic folk-rock.
When I listen to Low, I often end up thinking a lot about Neil Young, and how they seem to instinctively grasp his stunned dynamics, his uncanny harmonies, on a level that’s far more profound than most of his descendants (please check their collaboration with The Dirty Three on “Down By The River” if you can, an object lesson in impactful understatement). Alan Sparhawk might more overtly reference Young in his work with the Retribution Gospel Choir, but I hear resonances all through “C’Mon”.
Sparhawk has recently talked up the new record as akin to Richard & Linda Thompson’s “Shoot Out The Lights”, as an anatomy of a relationship, though the prevailing theme – the trials and consolations of a long-term relationshop, as far as I can tell – is maybe closer to something like Yo La Tengo’s “And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out”.
The Linda Thompson reference isn’t bad, though, at pinpointing the appeal of Mimi Parker’s voice: its affectingly muscular purity. I frequently think of Parker as kin to Judy Collins, which is a bit baffling, since while I love Parker’s voice, Collins tends to come across as cloying and sanctimonious to me. Even by her standards, she has some extraordinary songs on “C’Mon”: “Especially Me” and “You See Everything”, the latter having, I think, faint echoes of Young’s “Round And Round”.
At this point, “C’Mon” feels like the Low album I’ve liked most since “Things We Lost In The Fire”; no mean praise. Pivotal to this are a couple of Sparhawk-fronted songs: “Nothing But Heart”, one of those hard-punching, epically repetitive Low songs, this time elevated further by a solo from Nels Cline. Then there’s “Witches”, which taps into that luxuriant Youngian wallow again and finds Sparhawk dealing with visions, childhood nightmares and a confusing frustration with men who “act like Al Green”, something which evidently makes him so angry he can’t articulate exactly what the problem is.
It’s a magnificent song, one of the best I’ve heard in a while, and one, I think, of the best songs in a catalogue that has stealthily built up into one of the strongest of the past two decades. A good few of these songs are out there in live versions on Youtube, I think; if you have time, hunt them down and drop me a line.